This week I celebrated my one-year anniversary of librarianship. In my application essay for library school I wrote that I’d been a frequent library user for most of my life, yet had never considered working in one until recent epiphanies changed my outlook. Perhaps I thought of it like working at a movie theater—another regular haunt of mine—in that the prospect of seeing movies for free belied the much less glamorous reality of terrible hours, meager pay, and lots of cleaning. I simply never imagined myself on the other side of the reference desk or at the helm of a book cart. I didn’t lack imagination; I merely had, as Steven Johnson put it in How We Got to Now, a “slow hunch” that gestated for years and then illuminated only once the conditions were ripe.
My “plan” entering college was to become a high-school history teacher. I loved history and thought I might be a good teacher, so abracadabra: that’s what I’d do. History major, education minor, future set. But that first fall semester I took a writing class and wrote a few pieces for the school newspaper. That I could write about music, film, and essentially anything else I could conjure and get it printed in ink with my name attached to it for campus-wide distribution was a stunning revelation, and a disruptive one. This new storyline challenged the vocational narrative I’d slapped together to have something to tell people who asked at my high-school graduation party what I’d do with my life. But before winter break I’d changed majors to English (with an emphasis in journalism) and bumped history down to a minor (because you can’t have just one economically unviable field on your diploma). I never regretted the decision, nor did I forget the privilege of being able to make it at all thanks to scholarships and financial aid.
And yet, four years later, clad in a black gown I’d never wear again, holding a diploma I think I maybe know the current whereabouts of, I wondered what was next. As a newly christened liberal arts degree-holding humanities major—Oh great, another one—my skills and knowledge base were just unspecific enough to ensure that my first few jobs would have little to do with what I learned in college. But long-term planning has never been my thing. I have no idea what I’m having for lunch today, let alone where I’d like to be in five years. My strategy has been akin to what Anne Lamott describes in Traveling Mercies, how when her pastor prays for direction, “one spot of illumination always appears just beyond her feet, a circle of light into which she can step.” Life has felt more like that to me than following a line or climbing a ladder: hopping from one bright spot to the next and hoping for illumination. Hop, then hope, ad infinitum.
My post-graduation bright spot appeared after I’d spent a few months abroad and came home broke. One rent check away from having literally zero dollars, I worked as a cashier for a few months, which gave me much-needed income for the price of my soul, and then started part-time at Barnes & Noble as a bookseller. (That remains an all-time favorite job.) I would’ve stayed at Barnes & Noble indefinitely had another bright spot not appeared. A college friend of mine who’d taken a job at a university had entered its library and information science program and was telling me over and over how much I’d like it, that I should look into it. Who works in a library? I thought. But I looked into the program and realized, Oh, I would work in a library. Classes in archives (where my interests strongly laid at the time) coupled with a field that emphasized organization, books, cultural fluency, and intellectual freedom? Are you kidding me? That “circle of light” was blinding, so I leapt into it with a smile.
Confirmation came quickly. Library school, in my experience at least, was where being a nerd was nearly a prerequisite, introverts were abundant, and the male-to-female ratio was very much in my favor. (Exhibit A: Meeting my future wife in my first class.) But I was starting from 000. I’m pretty sure I was the only one in class who had never worked in a library. Lucky for me this was a built-in expectation: Because there is no bachelor’s degree in library science, everyone in some sense was starting from scratch. The learning curve was steeper for me, but that made things more fun. I wasn’t that long-time library worker grudgingly returning to school to sit through classes I could teach myself to get that expensive piece of paper that shattered the glass ceiling of professional certification and magically allowed me to earn more money; I was a guy who accidentally made a great candidate for librarianship and happened to like it too. Because I loved history most of my 36 credit hours trended toward archival work, but I also enjoyed classes on storytelling, metadata, bookbinding, and digital libraries. In this new world everything I looked at was a delicious possibility. I felt like a kid with a golden ticket bouncing around Willy Wonka’s sugary wonderland, except the edible mushrooms were finding aids and the chocolate river was the archives/cultural heritage track of my MLIS.
The river brought me past a few archival internships and volunteer gigs during school, which I parlayed into a (paid!) summer internship at a large corporate archives. But after such a wonderful opportunity, and the apex of my library school adventure, in the fall of 2013 I was back in the dark. The doldrums of unemployment followed, which I dotted with odd jobs, some freelance archiving, and intermittent despair, until I got a kinda-sorta-library-related warehouse job I was, two months later, summarily laid off from.
Things were dim. But then, another circle of light: an interview, then a second, and then a job offer. Time to hop again. I was a librarian. (Part-time, anyway. Though now I’ve started another part-time librarian position so I figure that equals one full-time job, minus health care.) Yet even after I said yes, I felt ill-equipped. I’d taken the wrong classes and banked the wrong type of internships to feel fully qualified for the position. But I’d learned a valuable lesson about hiring in my previous lives as an RA and housing coordinator: credentials do not (necessarily) a qualified candidate make. The letters after your name can get you a meeting, but they aren’t magic. You gotta hope the people in charge can work a crystal ball, and can see a résumé as a blueprint to build from and not a final product. I hopped, then I hoped.
My idea of the perfect job is a role that hits the sweet spot in the middle of the Venn diagram of one’s skills, interests, and passions. Being a librarian does that for me. I’m a reader and culture omnivore; I’m good at making complicated things understandable and enjoy seeing people succeed; and I ardently believe—personally and professionally—in what libraries do. I’m also only a year into this thing. The tectonic plates beneath the crust of the library world are grinding and shifting, and I don’t know what the occupational earthquakes will do to it. But I’ll be along for the ride, probably off in the 900s looking for my next presidential biography. Jean Edward Smith’s Grant has been whispering sweet nothings to me…
396 No longer used—formerly Women’s position and treatment
397 No longer used—formerly outcast studies
399 Customs of war & diplomacy
This section is a big of a grab-bag. I suppose customs, etiquette, and folklore fit together under the broad category of culture, but on the shelves this looks like that one drawer in the kitchen where you throw all that miscellaneous crap that doesn’t have a standard space, like rubber bands and capless pens and scrap paper. Not at all discounting the value of these topics—because how could we live without Emily Post telling us how to behave?!—but clearly some sections are better synthesized and meant to be than others. But that’s why we love Dewey, right? There’s a reason for everything (theoretically… we hope…) so we best try to understand why.
Or these books just needed to be somewhere.
Breakfast: A History
By Heather Arndt
Random Sentence: “For those wanting even less human contact for their meal, there were the automats.”
The thing I like about sections like this is how it surprises. Even though (or perhaps because) I grew up in the Christian world and am very familiar with its tropes, biases, and tendencies, I love when I find new things—perspectives that challenge conventional wisdom or allow for greater nuance and a rich, learning experience.
Anne Lamott (featured below) is a good example of this: though she is a Christian writer, she could hardly be more unconventional or irreverent in her approach and writing style. People who have either struggled with religiously oriented literature or written it off entirely would be pleasantly surprised by writers like her who, as the saying goes, ain’t your mama’s Christian writer. This is just one example of how Dewey, and really libraries in general, can surprise you if you take the time to browse and let serendipity be your guide.
Probably because, not in spite of, Christianity’s hitherto cultural/religious hegemony in the United States specifically, it has inspired a lot of writing. Some good, some terrible, and some I’m not quite sure about. Reading Jesus (below), for example, seems to bring a new approach to the Gospels, which are arguably the most published and referenced texts in world history. At weddings, funerals, and many events in between we hear many of the same verses quoted as inspiration and encouragement, or as argument or counterargument. It’s easy to cherry-pick and plug in a verse for an occasion, but how often does it go beyond that? There’s a lot to consider if we want to get past the tired, old interpretations of religious orthodoxy, so as someone reared in the Christian world I appreciate those who try to look at Jesus and his teachings in fresh ways.
Alyssa Vincent (Twitter) and I go way back to our college days, where we were fellow English majors and worked as co-editors-in-chief of our school newspaper. When we were emailing about her contributing to the second issue of the Simba Life Quarterly, I made an allusion to The Fault In Our Stars, which elicited a strongly worded retort very much in the negative about the John Green mega-best-selling book. Intrigued, I suggested we hash it out over Google Chat. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our (slightly obscene) conversation, which powered through a few bouts of spotty WiFi to touch on the effects and implications of the TFIOS phenomenon.
Alyssa: No. He is not. It’s impossible for a boy to be a manic pixie, because a manic pixie fulfills someone else’s destiny, or helps them achieve it. Gus could be a manic pixie dream boy for himself, but I don’t know if that could actually work. I already sound like a kooky feminist (HUZZAH), but in literature, male characters are rarely going to help female characters get along. Unless it’s Peeta in Hunger Games.
Chad: But isn’t that what happened? Poor (Understandably) Sad Hazel has her spirits lifted by goofy, positive cute boy who helps her discover the meaning of life.
Alyssa: But her spirits aren’t lifted! HE DIES. OK, they’re temporarily lifted, but a manic pixie never leaves their mark unhappy. She may be ~**happy**~ because she has felt love, but she’s immediately sad because it’s been taken from her. (Quick note: have you read the book or seen the movie? I’ve done the book but not the movie.)
Chad: I’ve consumed both. I realized after watching it, though, that in the future I think I’ll pass on reading books before seeing the movie if I can help it. Since I knew what was coming, it was hard to fully engage with the film and let it be what it wanted to be. As librarians we know that the book is always better than the movie, so I think both should get their fair shake. I’m curious as to what triggered your very visceral, expletive-laden reaction to it.
Alyssa: PEOPLE THINK HE IS ROMANTIC BUT HE IS JUST SAYING ROMANTIC SHIT AT HER RATHER THAN ENGAGING WITH HER. That is not love. Love is not saying someone’s full name and pushing yourself on her even though it’s pretty clear she doesn’t want a relationship. But fuck her boundaries! She wants love, she JUST DOESN’T KNOW IT. And EVEN WHEN HE DIES, he’s basically just like “Ugh, my life meant nothing because all I did was nothing.” All while Hazel’s like “My life meant everything because of you!” CLASSIC.
Chad: I think this book/movie suffered from the Twilight Syndrome: a plain, depressed girl with low self-esteem and a charisma vacuum has a shallow yet (to her) powerful encounter with a supposedly charming, good-looking dude who notices her. While Hazel’s transition to True Love took a bit longer than Bella’s, it seemed like an equally low bar that she needed to hit.
Alyssa: Exactly. And thank you for saying “supposedly” charming. Because that’s exactly what he is. He’s well-read—good for him! I’m not about to be like “OMG WHAT HIGH SCHOOLER EVEN SAYS THE SHIT HE DOES,” but what bothered me was her complete lack of engagement with it. She smiles, and that’s great, but we’re treated to such a clever girl who’s basically downgraded to fun retorts every so often in Gus’ wake.
Chad: Which causes me to wonder whether this is another example of adolescent girl wish-fulfillment in disguise of a putative love story. They’re high schoolers! Like Romeo and Juliet, if they had survived I’m guessing they wouldn’t have lasted long.
Alyssa: Ooooo, good call. I guess on a bigger level that’s what worries me about these books. Not like books are the only way for kids to learn things, but how are girls supposed to have real relationships when they’re presented with this shit?
Chad: And your quibble about Gus’s charm and eloquence is on point, though perhaps directed at the wrong target. From the little young adult literature I’ve read, teens who talk way more eloquently than in real life seems to be the status quo.
Alyssa: I think it was exacerbated in this book. I’ve read a bit of YA, and while the kids are clever, they’re never this blasé about it. And we can’t chalk that all up to “Well, he had CANCER so he’s so mature.”
Chad: While he did seem to be a better-than-life character, I recognized his type as the goofy, likable guy in high school that everyone pretty much liked, including the teachers. As was the case with Sutter in The Spectacular Now, I was glad to see an un-Edward-like male character.
Alyssa: Really? I have to see TSN, but I feel like Gus would look down his nose at Sutter. But that’s neither here nor there, since I can’t back that up with actual facts. Yes, it’s awesome to see a diversity (at least in personality) of male characters as they relate to women. And I will applaud John Green on the book-realistic sex scene. I think that if you really love the person you first have sex with, that’s basically how it goes down.
Chad: Clearly I’m not the target audience for this property, but I’m baffled by its mega-success. Perhaps John Green’s deep cult following helped elevate it. It hit a nerve somewhere for the legions of tween and teen girls who eat this stuff up. What’s the appeal in this book specifically?
Alyssa: I’m wondering the same thing. I picked the book up because it came out right near the tail end of my MLS schoolin’, and all the YA librarians were LOSING THEIR SHIT OVER IT. I think the appeal might lie in the fact that he’s a funny, nice, super-cute guy who is into a “plain” girl who’s very smart. And if there’s something that plain tweens comfort themselves with, it’s a) that they’re smarter than the pretty girls, and b) that a boy will finally notice them for that before college. That sounds so mean, but I would also sign that comment with “xoxo, a plain former middle-schooler.” Really, I think it’s the idea of a boy wanting to talk to you about what you’re interested in. For all the shit I give Gus, he read a book that was very important to her. For girls of all ages, that is total catnip.
Chad: How would Middle School Alyssa have reacted to it?
Alyssa: I WOULD HAVE LOVED IT. Honestly, I really think I would have. I’m a little cynical to his comments now, but I think I would have told my stuffed animals “See! He’s out there! There’s a funny, nice boy who likes reading as much as I do who’s going to love me forever!”
Chad: Naturally I see things from the male perspective, and as a young lad I think I would have seen Gus as a cool, nice, fun guy who got the girl because he was himself and actively sought her. Big difference from the angsty bad-boy types who were terrible role models yet still got the hot babes. Sure, he was pretty driven in his quest, but what did Hazel lose from being with him? (Aside from him.)
Alyssa: I don’t disagree with you. It is great to see two people who are honestly being themselves come together. That’s hard enough to have happen in real life. I guess I just feel for Hazel because Gus needed to be the star. Hazel is the type of person that would happily hold the spotlight, but I guess I wish she wasn’t? That she somehow also wanted to be the star? But then that’s total projection, and not fair to the story.
Chad: I also saw a bit of myself in Hazel. For a long time I tended to be a “no” person, preferring to do more solitary things and enjoy being introverted. But it was, of all things, watching the Jim Carrey movie Yes Man that helped to jumpstart me out of that. He was the same way: always saying no to things out of fear, worry, or boredom. But that leads to a small, lonely life. Though it was the Queen of the Manic Pixie Dream Girls herself, Zooey Deschanel, who helped pull him out of his existential funk, I sympathized with his, and likewise Hazel’s, journey from a sedentary, insular person to someone who would do crazy things like go to Amsterdam.
Alyssa: I think I just can’t get over their supposed “banter.” I’m not against a driven dude, but I guess I viewed early-book Gus the same way I view a cocky guy at a bar. Like, Cool it, dude. I know I’m hot and funny. Maybe give me a chance to know you before you launch into another soliloquy?
Chad: I struggled with the banter too. Again, that seems endemic to YA. I really struggled with Eleanor & Park for that reason. (I also struggled with Eleanor’s very tortured inner monologue, yet TFIOS was a much easier read for me despite still having a female protagonist.)
Alyssa: Another one I have to pick up. And I applaud that reading of it—that who cares if he’s a little grandiose—she came out of her shell and she’s better for letting her life be touched by someone. I guess I just wish the genre could fast forward to a time where we see a teen girl opened up by something other than a boy. Why can’t it be a movie? Or a book? For a few moments, I thought the book that meant so much to her would… do more? Be more? But it just ends up being a device in her relationship. I’m not trying to be like “down with people!”, but I do think it’s super dangerous to have girls think that the only way their worlds can be shaken (in a good way) is by romantic love. It’s not the only thing. That’s something I tell myself a lot, because I met Kurt (fairly) young, and it changed so many things in my life that I find myself trying to remember the other ways in which life changes. And I think more girls need to know those ways.
Chad: Clearly as a culture we’re still trying to shake off the Disney pixie dust that has clogged romantic storytelling for decades. But like glitter, that stuff does not come out easily. I thought having the book being central to her identity was a great step forward. Who was the last young female protagonist for whom that was the case? Belle loved reading, but it’s not like the Beast helped her reenact scenes from Shakespeare. Hazel had a very keen interest, Gus (sincerely) took effort to share in it, and they were both better for it, despite being grenades.
Alyssa: OH MY GOD CAN WE STOP WITH THE GRENADES.
Chad: It’s a metaphor. Get it?
Alyssa: UGH YES. You do not have exploding cancer. I appreciate that that was probably the most teenager-y thing either of them thought, but still. I definitely agree that it’s important that a book played a central role in her identity! It’s great! But it’s not enough.
Chad: You don’t think people with terminal illnesses worry about their effect on their loved ones?
Alyssa: Honestly, I don’t know how younger people with terminal illnesses react. I’m not saying that they don’t worry about their effect, but I don’t think it becomes their whole lives. Now, do I think Hazel has a personality that lends itself more to that more solitary “I’m gonna hurt everyone so I should keep to myself” assumption? Yes. But I don’t think that’s true of all people.
Chad: I do hope more female-driven, non-romantic stories get made in every medium. Frozen had the romantic element, but at least the sister dynamic was front and center. (A conversation for another day, to be sure.) TFIOS didn’t break through as far as you would have liked, but to me it went a little farther than you give it credit for. Though maybe a little far at the Anne Frank museum.
Alyssa: RIGHT OH MY GOD. Though again, I thought that that might be something teens would do. I sound so old. I’ll admit that this conversation has me seeing it a little more fairly, but my first (and likely only) read just had me sort of thinking “Um, I can’t take this smooth of a talker-atter seriously.” And I probably should have, but it’s just a tic I have. Boys: STOP TALKING AT GIRLS.
Chad: I’m with you there. I’m suspicious of anyone who talks that much with that much eloquent banter, let alone a high school athlete who loves violent books. I knew those types of guys. Some of those guys were friends of mine. Gus, you’re not one of those guys.
Alyssa: Exactly. So that’s where the book lost me from start to finish.
Chad: I had to keep saying to myself that “This movie is not for me.” This shouldn’t excuse the filmmakers and John Green from making something excellent, but there’s a difference, from goal and execution, between TFIOS and 12 Years A Slave. Same with the book too. The recent “Should adults read YA?” debate brought all this out onto the Internet. Should we hold YA to a different standard?
Alyssa: I had such a hard time with that article. Because the core of her argument is ridiculous: just like 13-year-olds probably won’t get a lot out of Anna Karenina (though they could technically read it), adults may not get a lot out of 13 Reasons Why. I don’t know if it’s about a different standard. I mean, I think it’s more about why you’re reading a book. More often than not, I’m reading a book to be a) challenged or b) entertained, or c) both. As long as a book does that, it’s been worth my time. But I do understand that people have much more developed standards than me. In terms of 12 Years A Slave and Anna Karenina, I worry that those types of works get credit immediately because they’re about difficult subject matter. Do they really deserve credit? Or are people just nervous about “not getting it”?
Chad: Yeah, there’s plenty of material for adults that just sucks.
Alyssa: I think that’s why adults reading YA is such an easy target—like, how could “kids books” teach you ANYTHING or be good at all unless you’re simple?
Chad: Whatever I’m reading, I want to learn from it. I’ve also concluded that I’ll read for myself, because I want to. Reading TFIOS allowed me to learn what young people (pass my false teeth, grandma) want to read. Even if it sucks, it tells us something about them. My response to the article was that adults should definitely read YA, the good stuff at least, but that they shouldn’t stay in it. There are SO MANY BOOKS out there, especially for adults. Expand your horizon!
Alyssa: No, absolutely. I find it weird when people are like “Well, I only read mysteries/YA/chick lit/ETC.” Um, really?
Chad: I felt compelled to read Eleanor & Park and TFIOS because they were high in the zeitgeist and I wanted to challenge myself to read something other than history or nonfiction. But I don’t see myself going down that road. They are also easy reads, so after a hefty history tome they are welcome palette cleaners.
Alyssa: I dip my toes into YA every so often, but I feel like I need something more to chew on. That makes me sound like the insufferable Slate writer, but I didn’t really read YA when I was a young adult, so it makes sense to me that I wouldn’t be drawn to it now.
Chad: Which is why I’m generally OK with TFIOS selling a bajillion copies. If young’uns or even adults read it, who knows where it could lead them?
Alyssa: Exactly! And like you said, the characters are better than what’s been going on in the past, so at least it’s forward motion.
107 Education, research, and related topics of philosophy
108 Kinds of persons in philosophy
109 Historical treatment of philosophy
Ahhhhhh… Sam Cooke. Melodically justifying ignorance since 1960. But those of us who don’t know much about philosophy are in luck: Dewey’s got us covered. Having conquered the first 100 Dewey points, we now enter the mind-melting glass case of cognition dedicated to Philosophy and Psychology. This first 10-spot focuses on philosophy, its theories and important historical figures. If you’re like me, you’re now having flashbacks to that Philosophy 101 course you took freshman year that was very stimulating but also made your brain hurt after every session and where you learned how to extend two pages’ worth of substantive arguments into 10 pages of grade-A high-falutin’ BS. (Or was that just me?)
Anyway, I really am fascinated by philosophy, even if I’m not cut out to study it hardcore. (I’m also noticing that it’s a super annoying word to type, at least for hunt-and-pecker like me. For the last time, hands, it’s not philospohy!) A lot of the books in my library were dedicated to making philosophy accessible to laypeople, which is good because it’s often not. Still, it is everywhere, even when it’s not evident. Just ask the Philosoraptor.
We made it to the end of our first 100 of Dewey! #WeDeweyedIt! And if it wasn’t totally evident by now that the Dewey Decimal Classification is about books, allow it to remind you one more time with this 10-spot dedicated to the things of books themselves: manuscripts, incunabula, and the kind of rare books only super-booksellers dare deal with. My closest encounter with this material happened in a Preservation & Conservation class in library school, wherein we learned about the history of paper, bookbinding, and conservation techniques, and also got to make a few books from scratch (one of which I won in a lottery at the end of the course – still a life highlight). To cap the course we had to write a research paper on any topic course-related; I chose to write a brief history of incunabula (early books) and titled the paper Dream of the 1490s: Gutenberg and the Birth of the Printed Book, a title fans of Portlandia and books will be able to appreciate.